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Autocycles 101: Everything You Need to Know

Is it a car? Is it a motorcycle? No, it’s an autocycle!

You’ve seen them driving down the road. You think it’s a tiny car at first, but then realize there’s only one wheel in the back. It flies past you; the two passengers enjoying the open-air cab and getting a nice tan while seeing the sights. Maybe you think these things are cool. Maybe you think they are ridiculous. But what even is it? Meet the autocycle.

autocyclePhoto credit: @polarisslingshot / Vehicle: Polaris Slingshot

Technical Differences

Let’s start with what autocycles are not.

Technically, autocycles do not fall into the same category as three-wheel motorcycles because the rider is not straddling the vehicle or using handlebars to maneuver it; instead they are sitting in a seat and steering with a wheel. However, autocycles do share some characteristics with motorcycles in that they have less than four wheels and many models feature exposed cabs, hence why helmets are required in some states.

While they are not classified as such, autocycles are typically marketed as “small cars” over “motorcycles.” In addition to the steering wheel, they have pedals to brake and accelerate, seat belts for your safety, and often include room for additional passengers.

autocyclePhoto credit: @vanderhall / Vehicle: Vanderhall Venice

Autocycles in Legal Terms

Now that we know what autocycles technically are, what are they in legal terms? What are the laws surrounding these mystifying motorcycle-car-hybrids?

Currently, the main federal body in charge of categorizing vehicles (NHTSA) does not have a category unique to autocycles. Because of this, they are technically considered “motorcycles” and must abide by motorcycle safety standards.

In the past decade, big strides have been made by each state to ensure that motorcycle licenses are not required for operating an autocycle. As of now, 46 states only require a standard driver’s license. New York, Pennsylvania, Alaska, and Rhode Island are the remaining four states that still require a motorcycle endorsement.

Looking to ship your autocycle or motorcycle? Check out our preparation guide to getting your vehicle ready for transport.

autocycle driving on roadPhoto credit: @polarisslingshot / Vehicle: Polaris Slingshot

While the federal level may still seem a bit vague, most states have been busy developing their own laws that create an autocycle subcategory or specific classification, as well as more clearly define regulations around licensing, helmet usage, seat belts, and other safety requirements.

Check out this state-by-state breakdown to see which states have autocycle definitions, which require helmets, and which require motorcycle licenses to hit the road.

Renting an Autocycle

Not ready to deal with all the laws and regulations of owning an autocycle just yet? Good news! You can still rent one and experience the ultimate three-wheeled adventure.

Autocycle rental prices range from $50-100/hour to $300-500+ for the day (or two). As with any major vehicle rental, most places require a security deposit of $1,000 or more before hitting the road. Many rental companies also require that you purchase insurance, which usually runs between $15-25.

In states where there is a legal autocycle category, helmets are not required. In states where they are classified as motorcycles, then a helmet is required.  Other safety measures such as gloves, goggles, and long sleeves/pants are strongly advised, especially in models with open cabs.

Check out these top vacation destinations to rent autocycles.

autocycles driving in the desertPhoto credit: @vanderhall / Vehicle: Vanderhall Venice

While navigating the world of autocycles isn’t the simplest, it is not impossible. The safest bet is to double-check all state laws when renting or purchasing this kind of vehicle. If you are renting, the rental company should be able to guide you through the legalities of the local area.

As far as buying an autocycle, where you live will determine the rules around your vehicle’s safety standards, which kind of license you need (standard v. motorcycle), and helmet requirements.

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